Author: Jackie_Simmonds, Contributing Editor
|Take a look at some of your holiday photos. Look at the shadows. They look quite straight forward, don’t they? Dark shapes on the ground or cast against a wall you would think would be easy enough to paint.
However, there is much more to a shadow than simple absence of light. It is not just a grey shape. Shadows are often full of color, and shadows give the artist an opportunity to add drama and interest to a painting in a variety of ways.
| "The Curved Garden Path"
pastel on paper
In this image the shadows on the path are vitally important. Without them the path would be a boring shape splitting the picture into two halves. With the lacy shadows the path is far more interesting. The shape created by the solid shadow cast by the wall adds a lovely pictorial element too. The shadow subtly echoes the curving shape of the wall itself. Imagine this image without the sunlight and shadows...not half so nice!! The shadows, and the contrasting sunlight, make the picture, for me.
|Let’s look at some of the “functions” of shadows.
1. Shadows can define form
A cast shadow will describe the form of the surface upon which it falls. For example a shadow of a tree falling across a bumpy piece of ground will curve up and over the bumps, describing the surface of the ground. Also, a shadow can describe the shape of an object, in the way it wraps itself around something curved for instance, or describes its planes and angles. An apple or a ball will have a soft shadow on one side. A box, with light shining on one side of it, will have, perhaps, a top plane which is illuminated, and maybe a side plane, but the other sides will be in shadow.
2. Shadows can anchor objects
A shadow on the ground, or on a tabletop, will anchor objects solidly to that surface.
3. Shadows can be used as a compositional device
A painting can be organised into areas of light and dark by using shadow shapes quite deliberately. Squint at your subject to simplify the pattern of light and shadow. This may suggest a dynamic composition. Some shadow shapes may be so interesting in themselves that they can even become the subject of the painting.
4. Shadows help to emphasise the light
To achieve the magic of light in your paintings, you need contrasting areas of shadow.
Clearly, shadows can be a most important element in your paintings. Now let me ask you a few questions, or rather, I would like you to ask yourself these questions. Having a little dialogue with yourself during the course of producing a painting can be really helpful, and I found, as a student, that having some key questions written into the back of my sketchbbok helped me to analyse my paintings. Why not write these questions into the back of your sketchbook, and refer to them occasionally as you work. This can help you to grow as an artist and may even turn you into a shadow-painting expert.
|Do I consider the colour and tone of shadow areas?
Because a shadow implies lack of light, this does not mean lack of color. In fact, shadows are often full of subtle colour. If you paint your shadows black, or dark grey, you run the risk of creating areas in your picture which look dull, or worse like holes from a distance.
Shadows often contain areas of color filled reflected light, caused by the colors of nearby objects in full light. Shadows may also contain hints of the color complementary to the local color of the object itself, so a yellow wall in shadow may contain hints of purple, yellow’s complementary colour on the colour wheel.
You need to consider the local color of the object, or surface on which the shadow falls. The color of a shadow area on a blue door will be completely different in color to the shadow area on a red door. I know this sounds perfectly logical, yet, somehow reason seems to depart when people begin to paint. Aha!, I hear you say, "A shadow! I had better paint it grey." This would be painting what you think should be there, rather than what you see.
The tone of the shadow needs to be studied carefully also. How dark is it? Compare it to other dark areas in the scene. Look for changes in tone along its length, particularly if it is a long cast shadow. The shadow may be stronger and darker near to its object, and softer and lighter towards the edge.
|Is the shadow warm or cool in colour?
There is much truth in the saying warm light - cool shadow, cool light - warm shadow, which you can use as a general rule of thumb. The temperature quality of the prevailing light is certainly worth consideration. Warm sunlight or warm lamplight will often create cool, bluish shadows; whereas, cool light through a window on an overcast day, or from a fluorescent light, may create much warmer shadows. You rarely will go wrong if you use this little rule, however, do observe carefully. It may be that a shadow contains both warm and cool colours.